Karl Marx Definition About Marx Theory

A Closer Look at the Dialectic

An examination of the Marxian concept of the social superstructure will help to clarify the Marxian theory of history and the Marxist attitude toward society. Marx was interested in individuals' fulfilling themselves. This interest comes out most clearly in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which were lost for eighty years and not published until 1932. In these early manuscripts, Marx made clear his philosophical objection to capitalism and how he believed it alienates human beings from themselves. According to Marx, private property and the market devalue and demean all that they touch and thereby alienate individuals from their true selves. Thus, the very existence of markets—especially labor markets—undermines people's ability to achieve true happiness.

Because Marx's notions are themselves alien to much of current Western thinking, let us give some examples of similarities to Marx's ideas in current social mores. Current social mores generally hold that it is immoral to sell one's body for sex; doing so involves prostituting oneself and alienates one from one's body. The same applies with certain interactions among friends: you don't generally charge friends or relatives interest on loans, and you don't expect, or want, payment for acts of friendship.

Why does modern society have these social conventions? Because in these cases it sees the market as demeaning, as alienating the individual from her or his true self. The market undermines love and friendship. Marx's analysis simply carried that morality further and extended the concept of alienation to all market transactions. To sell one's time to another is to alienate oneself from the realization of one's true self.

Marx argued that classical economics simply accepted markets and did not consider the nature of private property and the effect that the existence of markets had on people. He argued that it was necessary to study the connection between "private property, avarice and the separation of labor, capital, and landed property; between exchange and competition, value and the devaluation of men, monopoly and competition, etc.; the connection between this whole estrangement and the money system." Thus, his central criticism of classical economics was that it did not consider how the forces of production would undermine the relations oforoduction.

Marx argued that ultimately, once the market had created the forces of production that could meet people's material needs, the alienation inherent in property rights and markets would lead individuals to free themselves from the market and create a society that would eliminate private property and the alienation associated with it.

Given the moralistic grounding of Marx's thought, one would expect Marx to have had a positive view of religion. That was anything but the case. Marx said that religion validated the current alienation and was part of the social superstructure; it was the opiate of the people. It prevented change rather than fostering change. He thought the same about cultural aspects of society such as art, literature, music, and philosophy. Their function is to rationalize and support the existing institutional structure and to divert attention from the growing conflicts indicating that this institutional structure is no longer appropriate to the available technology. This accounts for the antireligious attitude of some Marxists as well as for their stance that the only acceptable literature, art, or music is that which recognizes and exposes the alienating aspect of private property and markets.

The Marxian theory of history traces the development of society from feudalism to capitalism and its further development, as predicted by Marx, into socialism and finally into communism. Marx argued that during the early feudal period, the relations of production were appropriate to the existing forces of production, and that these relations of production were supported and rein­forced by the social superstructure. However, the changing forces of production soon destroyed this harmony, as the institutional structure of feudalism became incompatible with developing agricultural technology, increased trade, and the beginning of manufacturing. These conflicts between the forces and relations of production were manifested in a class struggle and finally produced a new set of relations of production, capitalism.
In The Communist Manifesto Marx described the harmony between the forces and relations of production that existed in early capitalism and the tremendous increase in output and economic activity that ensued. Capitalism, however, like feudalism, contains the seeds- of its own destruction, as conflicts inevitably develop with changes in the forces of production. With the fall of capitalism, a new set of relations of production will emerge, which Marx called socialism; socialism, in turn, will finally give way to communism. Before we turn to Marx's detailed examination of capitalism, several other issues raised by the Marxian theory of history deserve attention.